Can I eat the strawberries that have been grown in wheat straw?

By Sue Newell, CCA National Office

There’s wheat straw in that field

strawberriesI know when strawberry season hits across the country because I start seeing variations on this question: “The farm has straw between the rows of strawberries. Can I still eat the berries?”

The short answer is: go ahead and eat the strawberries. Wash them first. Watch out for mold.

Straw is the dried stalks of a grain plant (usually barley, oats, rye, or wheat) after the grain and chaff have been removed. Grains are the seeds of the plant which grow in a head at the top of the plant. Grain is the only part of the plant that contains gluten. Chaff is the thin, dry, scaly husk around the grain. Straw is harvested after the grain has been removed.

“But what if there are some grains left in the straw?” is usually the second question. A few grains might be mixed in, but grain is much more valuable than straw so as much grain as possible is removed before the straw is left to dry. Any remaining kernels often fall off during straw harvest and are left behind in the field. Those that might make their way to the strawberry field will tend to fall to the ground because of their weight. They are slower to dry then the stems so even if they break, the moisture will prevent much material from flying around.

Will the gluten end up in the strawberries? No. Plants take in hydrogen, oxygen, water, and minerals from the soil and use those basic elements to build the various structures the need. Strawberries do not absorb complex chemicals like proteins directly.

So why do some people get sick when they eat strawberries grown in straw? I wonder if it is related to more gray mold (actually a fungus, Botrytis cinerea). Most berries have some spores on them, but if the straw traps moisture, mold growth can be accelerated. Straw also contains a variety of mold and fungus spores that may contribute to the problem, if you are sensitive to those allergens it might appear that you are reacting to the strawberries.

Savory Strawberry Dishes

When somebody says strawberry and savory together, I instantly think of a salad with dark lettuce, strawberries, pecans, balsamic vinegar and some sort of dressing. I like those salads, but as someone with celiac disease, salads are what you eat when nothing else is safe. Not the right way to celebrate juicy ripe strawberries that were attached to a plant that morning.

Here are a few recipes I’ve come across recently that use strawberries to create a more interesting gluten-free option for supper.


About David E. Fowler

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